The Tortoise and the Hare – The Netflix Effect (part 2)

A woman pointing a remote control

Continuing the streaming conversation, Fikri Jermadi weighs in with his two cents on Netflix’s impact in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Following on from what Ezzah wrote recently, there are a couple of points I wish to add on to the issue. She highlighted a number of different elements that are interesting to consider. For many of the younger generation, it certainly does fit into their plateau of entertainment. In many respects, the arrival of Netflix in areas like Southeast Asia is long-time coming; the originators of the visual streaming phenomenon has finally come home to roost, so to speak.

It also has the potential to reduce some of the levels of piracy that has run rampant for quite a while in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and others. Certainly, with a greater and more effective level of education, many will hopefully come round to see the upsides of such applications as having a positive side effect on the film industry as a whole.

Purcell really wanted to audition for 'Game of Thrones'.

Speaking of which, there is also much hope for this to become a platform that transforms the way in which films are exported beyond our own regional borders. Ezzah noted this as a positive outlet for KRU Studios’ ‘Vikingdom’, as well as other local films in her area. “Perhaps due to its licensing and copyright being approved for the domestic audience,” she wrote, “British and Irish films are readily available, which helps the local film industry reach a greater viewership.”

Nevertheless, there remain several aspects to this, which I wish to raise for further discussion. Netflix and its database of films and television shows available for consumption certainly makes it an attractive proposition for many. In Malaysia, for example, the price of RM33 monthly for a basic subscription package is cheaper than a single meal at TGI Fridays.

However, Ezzah pointed out, they also have other competitors like iFlix who have long established their presence in the region. Led by a locally based team who’s in tune with their audience, I believe this to be a situation where the early bird gets the biggest worm. Their promotional efforts, tying in local celebrities in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to entice new subscribers, have certainly been unique in that regard.

Making content from these countries available to each other have also been a masterstroke. Southeast Asians have a tendency of checking out what their neighbours have every once in a while; for our part, Malaysians certainly tend to lap up the range of Thai and Indonesian films that do make it to the cinemas here. At the same time, due to certain licensing issues Netflix can’t even screen some of the works that they themselves have produced. ‘House of Cards’, for example, has long been championed as the wind that blew down the house of conventional television programming, but that’s already carried by HyppTV in Malaysia. It certainly is not shown in Indonesia.

2057412uber-5780x390Speaking of which, the roadblock of legal issues have practically put paid to their expansion in Southeast Asia’s largest country. Officially, the government has expressed concerns at the sudden influx of cultural texts into what they may regard as a fairly malleable society. Not unlike Uber (whose presence in Indonesia has also provoked angry responses from local operators), Netflix is seen as a disruptor of traditional mindsets and ways of doing things.

As such, while it was available for a short time, things went downhill when the nation’s leading telecommunications company Telkom took the initiative to block it. This is, after all, a country that readily blurs bits of even the most innocuous of scenes on terrestrial television (you can see Megan Fox’s alluring face on Transformers, but a pixellated square awaits you should you cast you gaze downwards ever so slightly).

Seen in that light, it was not the most surprising of developments, but given how they were already available to begin with, the echoes of disappointment can be heard all across the middle-class areas of Jakarta. “Netflix allows us greater access to enjoy great films legally,” said Mira Lesmana, producer of the seminal film ‘Ada Apa Dengan Cinta’. “It’s better than buying pirated goods.” Ironically, therefore, the outlawing of Netflix has meant that many reverted (back) to subvert the system by faking their IP address, enhancing a different sort of piracy in the end.

As such, its sudden global expansion has not been without problems. That is a normal occurrence, but it does not appear to have a strong willingness to correct and deal with how it deals with the different markets of Southeast Asia to ensure that its presence is a continued one.

astromeasatindonesiaawardrejectsb5Reports of how it has negatively affected its so-called competitors may not have been untrue, but to expect this to be sustained over an extended period of time without enough acculturation to more local and legal aspects of each society is foolhardy, to say the least. In that regard, the slow(er) and steady approach of iFlix and companies like it may well win them this race in the end.

That’s not to say that they have no chance whatsoever. Far from it: Netflix is an established company that grew over many years to become the leading brand in its field. It is not without its merits.

I believe its trump card in regional markets like Malaysia and Indonesia is to reverse that flow of cultural colonialism; rather than remain exclusively focused delivering international products in these markets, perhaps prioritising the glocalisation of local films could maintain its relevance for us all. After all, its global reach is unparalleled, and should it play this particular card right, it could well have a positive impact on the film industry and the societies of Southeast Asia as a whole.

They need to make that change quick, though, before it’s too late to catch up to the tortoise in front.

Read part one of our thoughts here.

Featured image credit: Info Komputer

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